Dr. AIX's POSTS — 01 July 2015

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The final installment:

“I’ve noticed all the debate about this subject and try to offer consumers a more down to earth explanation they can understand in layman’s terms because the hi res audio listening experience is worth the effort.”

What is “down to earth” about reinforcing misinformation? It turns out that the “high-res listening” experience is not being delivered in most cases. I got a phone call from a very prominent member of the audio/video marketing community this morning. He came by last week with a new, very high-end portable, high-resolution audio player. The company gave him the device so that he could evaluate it for possible inclusion in his employer’s retail outlets. He listened to the “so-called” high-res content that they company included on the player. He was impressed but not over the moon.

He came by and asked if I would load a bunch of my tracks on the device. I gave him the iTrax/Sprint Sampler files and a couple Headphones[xi] versions. He flipped out the moment he heard real high-resolution audio tracks. And the virtualized surround selections impressed him even more. He’s assured me that he’s going to tell the supplier of the high-res device that they should include some AIX Records tracks on the player.

Today, he told me that he had paid $26 for a Linda Ronstadt album from a major online supplier of high-resolution music. He compared it with his CD version over and over again and concluded that he couldn’t tell the difference. So maybe Ryan is right about some of the catalog offered at PonoMusic. And maybe it does cast doubt on the whole high-resolution marketplace…and rightfully so. My definition may not be the answer but it does actually move the bar!

I suspect that the author of the comments doesn’t fully grasp the concept of “louder”. Maybe he means more dynamic or more engaging. His final paragraph mentions Robert Stuart’s MQA invention, which he describes as, “a very promising technology that also allows playback at higher levels to match the studio master dynamic range”. I got an email from Robert last weekend and will be getting answers to my questions about MQA directly from the source. Maybe I should ask him if MQA “allows playback at higher levels to match the studio master dynamic range”? It doesn’t. It is a very clever codec that guarantees that everything that was produced in the studio is delivered to the listener at home. There isn’t anything in any of the information I’ve read that says it allows for louder playback.

“Telling consumers that there are no differences between the formats is counter-productive and easily disproved, once a consumer hears ‘uncompressed content’, he’s usually hooked.”

If it’s so “easily disproved”, why hasn’t anyone been able to do it? I was involved in a study just last holiday season that came back with unconvincing results. It is a very subtle difference and then only when listening to a very carefully done transfer or an original recording at high-res.

And here we are back at the “uncompressed content” description. Are we talking about data compression or audio compression?

I’ve written way too many words in response to the comments on the AR article. I’ve spent the time – and no doubt alienated the gentleman behind the comments – because his “marketing oriented” terminology and explanation is so far from accurate. It’s no wonder that the casual audio enthusiast is confused when writers incorrectly claim that other people are wrong but fail terribly with the facts themselves. This is important. That’s why I write everyday.

I’m a recording engineer and an audiophile. But I don’t have state-of-the-art equipment at my house. I don’t have any products from Synergistic Research…including the High Definition ground wires. In fact, I don’t have any special cables or audiophile tweaks here at the studio or at home. I suspect that recording engineers are far better listeners than the average audiophile…even without exotic systems at home. But we do know great sound and how to achieve it.

Marketers will continue to spin things in their direction to entice you to buy whatever they’re trying to sell. I had hoped to avoid a big back and forth discussion about the AP article. But things got out of hand.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(19) Readers Comments

  1. I think the “louder” guy is generally very confused. His commentary makes no sense, not sure trying to correct him was worth your time! Good to read your observations though!

    • I think you’re right….but as I started typing, I simply couldn’t stop before I got my thoughts out. This guy pretends to be an expert.

  2. Mark,

    A simple change of terminology might help clear things up: Instead of saying “audio compression” say “volume compression.”

    “Audio compression” is inherently ambiguous to those who didn’t work in the industry in the age of analog audio, since it doesn’t explicitly say what aspect of the audio is being compressed.

    In the age of analog audio, “compression” was implicitly understood to mean volume compression.

    Since there are now other kinds of compression being done routinely – particularly data compression – it’s worth “unpacking” the concept and making it explicit by saying “volume compression” versus “data compression – which doesn’t necessarily affect volume levels, just high-frequency details.”

    PS Since – as you’ve pointed out in the past, more bits in the sample don’t mean a smoother gradient over the same total dynamic range but are used to allowed for “overhead” in mixing, so loud peaks don’t overdrive the recording equipment – he’s not completely wrong about more bits meaning it could be louder. There is the potential for that, even though it’s potential that’s not used for music recordings being mixed for mass release as 16 bit CD WAVs.

    However, I’ve noticed that blockbuster “action movie” soundtracks on Blu-ray tend to be 24 bit more often than other films. I assume that’s to allow for – yes – louder action sequences.

    Phil

  3. You’ve made many comments about people being blown away by your “real high-resolution” recordings, but how much of that do you think is due to the capabilities of 24/96, and how much to your production process? The combination of close miking and zero compression is very rare, if not unique. That is, might they have the same reaction to the CD resolution version?

    • It’s minimally the result of the 96 kHz/24-bit format and primarily because of the production techniques. I’ve said this a number of times.

      • Yes, you have talked about the importance of the entire production path before. You’ve also written about how discriminating between CD resolution and high resolution takes good equipment and a certain amount of training/familiarity. But, in this post, as in some others, the implication is that the subject is responding to “real high-resolution audio” as opposed to “standard resolution audio” in unnecessarily large files. And, this, seemingly through a portable player and headphones.

        Regular readers of your blog, I think, understand your position, but someone coming across a similar post for the first time might be confused or misled.

        • Sure…and my staunchness regarding the differences between real high-res and high-res transfers and standard-res has been refined over the years.

          • Mark,
            Related to Andrea’s point, now that you have quite a collection of posts (hard to believe over 2 years worth)…have you considered adding search capability? Say a newcomer wanted to search among all of your posts for anytime you have written “DSD”. This would allow them to follow the history and arguments with more perspective. And even for your readers that have joined in from the beginning (like myself), a few times I’ve recalled a post you did and wanted to re-read it, but didn’t remember the date.

          • This is something that has popped up before. I did briefly look for a search plugin but I’ll have to look again. There’s almost 900 posts on the site. That’s a lot!

          • I have also wished for a search capability many times, but in the meantime you can use one of the internet search engines. A google search using “http://www.realhd-audio.com/?p=” followed by the subject you’re looking for e.g. “DSD” will work. You can then refine the result list with a date range or the Verbatim option.

  4. It continues to dismay me (although having worked for a fairly prestigious audio manufacturer back in the 1970s, not surprise me) that a lot of marketing people tend to toss around terms that sound like they’re sophisticated, but are really mumbo-jumbo.

    The “louder” comment simply made me cringe. I’ve played back (much to the dismay of my neighbors at the time) LPs at 100dB spl. I’ve played back cassettes at the same level, as well as 45s and 8-tracks. So a bigger bit-bucket has nothing to do with how loud a file can be played.

    Just as an example, in my car, I often listen to podcasts. Dynamic range isn’t an issue when your windows are down, so I take my downloaded MP3 podcasts and run them through a batch process in Goldwave that limits to -6dB, maximizes volume, then maximizes loudness. No dynamic range, to be sure, but then these aren’t Bach or Beethoven. They’re news, science, woodworking, etc. conversations. Oh, and I drop the size of the bit bucket down to 48kbps mono. They play loud enough to understand on an interstate with the windows down in my Kia Spectra 5. Loudness and number of bits are related like apples and dreams.

  5. “Marketers will continue to spin things in their direction to entice you to buy whatever they’re trying to sell. I had hoped to avoid a big back and forth discussion about the AP article. But things got out of hand.”

    Don’t be discouraged Mark, it’s what you do that brings the beauty of music to our homes and the excitement of video to our screens. You and others of your ilk are the good guys while the hucksters and snake oil peddlers or retail HiFi will some day get their due karma.

    Lets swing to brighter conversations, James Taylors new album sounds great. Steven Wilson just released his “unmastered” release of Jethro Tulls Thick As A Brick and it will never sound better, a real grin for Tull fans.
    They just opened a brand new movie theater in Davenport, A couple weeks back I saw Jurassic World and today Terminator Genesis on their IMax screen. Forget the video, I have NEVER heard sound like that! I don’t know anything about the sound system but the immersion effects are awesome. And the BASS, OMG, I’d die to see what they have for the subwoofer system, it’s depth, power, speed and cleanliness have to be heard to be believed. What’s going on their, how are they doing it?

    • Speakers and the control of room acoustics has improved tremendously in the last decades…the movie houses know how to deliver great sound.

  6. Diogenes can extinguish his lamp. Well done!

  7. Your weekly emails have gotten me into purposely LOOKING for HD content…with a high likelihood of it originating from a well done studio master …good provenance 🙂

    There is a huge problem though…..aside from the pickings being slim…there is not a huge list of music like this….what is available, is NOT what I or most music lovers I know like to listen to….

    An example…. Linn Records sent out an email blast this morning. I did not feel the Martin Taylor tracks they were pushing were tracks people would ever really love….like when you hear a really compelling song for the first time, and you know this music grabs you, and you have to have it…and listen to it often from then on. Absent the nonsense of the music industry and corporate promotion of its own labels…this is the difference between a song that will be a top 20 or top 100 track….and one that will just remain background music. The lyrics don’t catch you or connect with you,,,and even with well produced music–the music does not grab you,,,

    So this was my take with the Martin Taylor tunes….just elevator music at best, regardless of his obvious talent as a studio musician….and then of course, you see that Lunn Records is only offering this as CD quality downloads….when you are expecting 24 bit , 96 Hz at least….
    Next I did a search on the Linn site for 24 bit studio masters in the Jazz genre….I pulled up several, and one of the better–less elevator music, non-descript melody type offerings they had was from Carol Kidd,,,,but once again, while she has a nice voice, and the music is really well produced…not one track on the album is something your friends would want to hear at a party at your house.

    Great HD music, needs to be of the bands you and your friends like, and it needs to be the actual songs you like…not just some generic, vanila jazz that you could go to sleep listening to.

    I have the Magnepans and DAC and mono block monster amps…and I will continue to search for great 24 bit master recordings….but for this to really go anywhere in the future, some of the major recording artists that DO put out compelling music, are going to need to step up, and get with the HD program…..I can only hope that with PONO, some will feel that enough of the masses will get on board that distribution of this work would be viable and worth their effort.

    • You’re right…the usual audiophile tracks can be pretty sleepy. I like to think that I have some winners among my releases. Laurence Juber, Carl Verheyen, etc.

      • NOT to forget Mark Chesnutt 😉

  8. Dan Volker wrote: “Next I did a search on the Linn site for 24 bit studio masters in the Jazz genre….I pulled up several, and one of the better–less elevator music, non-descript melody type offerings they had was from Carol Kidd,,,,but once again, while she has a nice voice, and the music is really well produced…not one track on the album is something your friends would want to hear at a party at your house.”

    Horses for courses. I think Linn have a very good Jazz line-up, I particularly like Claire Martin, whos style of music is anything but elevator (or “Musac” as we call it in the UK). There’s also the eclectic, up and coming, Joe Stilgoe who I’m really getting into. I would tend to agree about Carol Kidd, but then her music is what we would call “middle of the road” (MOR) and what you would call “smooth jazz”.

    In recent times I can’t think of any Jazz artist, from any country, who would make the “top 100”, such charts are now for popular, some would say disposable, music. Good music, recorded in “high resolution” is not that difficult to find.

    • Dave, I agree a Jazz track is not likely to make the top 100 in this day and age…but my point was that there is a big difference in how compelling some jazz tracks are…versus what I called the elevator music that some studio musicians are putting out at 24 bit/96 Hz….
      Better example of what I mean is in choices like this Spotify playlist… https://open.spotify.com/user/danvolker4/playlist/4d1v8YLDbosVh9VMpbU8vK

      Each of these have “something” that most of the HD offerings just don’t have….We need to come up with a name for what that is 🙂

      Regards,
      Dan

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